Press release

Competitive school sport: going the extra mile

Students in the state school system deserve the same opportunities to excel at competitive sport as those in the independent sector

In the report Going the extra mile: excellence in competitive school sport, Ofsted finds that schools with high sporting standards have similarly high expectations in the classroom. Both help to cultivate an environment in which pupils excel.

Following the success of Team GB in the 2012 Olympics, Ofsted was keen to explore why so many winning athletes attended independent schools and examine the link between quality of competitive school sport and later sporting success.

The survey reveals unacceptable discrepancies between the proportion of pupils attending state schools and their representation in elite sport. For example, fewer than one in ten pupils across the country attend fee paying schools but they make up the majority of the players in the English Rugby Union premiership, and more than a third of players in top level cricket.

The survey finds that in the best schools, both independent and state, leaders recognise the benefits of competitive sport in building the school’s culture. They make sure that sport helps pupils to excel in the classroom and on the playing field.

Competitive sport thrives in schools with staff that dedicate time and energy to organising sport before, during and after-school, as well as at weekends. Schools identify particularly talented pupils and develop them through extra coaching whilst also ensuring that sport is accessible to pupils of all abilities.

However, only 13 per cent of headteachers of state schools surveyed for the report said that they expected all students to take part in competitive sport, and only 40% of young people said they regularly played sport outside school.

Launching the report on the morning of his speech to the Wellington Education Festival, where he will set out to reclaim the comprehensive ideal, Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

It simply cannot be right that state educated athletes are so woefully under-represented in our elite sports. Heads who treat competitive sport with suspicion or as an optional extra are not only denying youngsters the clear dividends that come with encouraging them to compete, they are also cementing the social inequality that holds our nation back.

Sport can have a transformative effect on schools and pupils. It is clear that a commitment to sporting excellence often reflects a culture of high expectations and achievement in the school as a whole. Schools that win on the field win in the exam hall.

More state schools are now encouraging sporting excellence. They use competitive schools sport to energise the entire school culture. They demonstrate that high school fees and large playing fields are not a pre-requisite to success.

If all schools follow the example of the best identified in this report, there is no reason why more pupils from state funded schools can’t be batting for England at the Ashes or scoring a winning try in the next Six Nations.

Ofsted recommends that maintained schools and academies should recognise the wider benefits that sport brings to pupils and their school, and that they should make a distinction between physical education on the one hand and sports coaching on the other. Schools should:

  • raise the quality of their competitive sports programmes by learning from the best and supporting the most able students
  • work with professional associations to help and inspire the best athletes
  • put sport at the centre of the school by involving parents and governors, and take every opportunity to celebrate sport and reward success

In addition, the government should ensure that improving the proportion of athletes reaching elite levels from state schools is a specific focus of the national strategy for improving competitive sport in schools and monitor and report on this.

This Ofsted survey also recommends that sport associations should be proactive in offering support for school pupils. They should help schools forge meaningful links with sports clubs so that pupils can take part in school during the school day and outside regular school hours.

Ofsted visited 35 state schools and 10 independent schools, and took into account the views of more than 500 headteachers and 1,000 pupils aged between 11 and 18 years in preparation for this report.

Of the 15 state schools identified as delivering excellence in competitive sport, 13 were either good or outstanding and the remaining two had good or outstanding leadership.

Case studies of good practice in the report include Barking Abbey School in Essex which has teamed up with England Basketball to become a Regional Institute for Basketball and John Cleveland College in Leicestershire where a focus on rugby and netball has led to sustained success for the school.

Notes to editors

  1. Going the extra mile: excellence in competitive sport is online.

  2. In England 7% of pupils attend a fee-paying school at any one time. However, almost 41% of the English medallists at the London 2012 Olympics attended an independent school.

  3. Additional research for this report was commissioned from the TOP Foundation and through a survey of 1005 young people by TNS-BRMB.

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Published 20 June 2014